Bible on the Big Screen

In March 2013, Mark Burnett (the mind behind “Survivor,” “The Apprentice,” and “The Voice”) and his wife, Roma Downey (“Touched By An Angel”), captured hearts across the globe with their TV miniseries, “The Bible.” The series was a huge hit, not only in the U.S., but in Europe and Hong Kong as well.

Now, Burnett and Downey are taking it to the next level – the big screen. They’ve pulled bits and pieces from the TV series and combined it with extra footage never before shown to create a feature film of the life of Jesus. Son of God will be released in theaters February 28. Jessi Emmert spoke with Burnett about what it was like to turn his hit TV series into a major motion picture.

Producer Mark Burnett (left), actor Darwin Shaw and actor Diogo Morgado. Photo courtesy of  Lightworkers Media Inc. and Hearst Productions Inc.

Producer Mark Burnett (left), actor Darwin Shaw and actor Diogo Morgado. Photo courtesy of
Lightworkers Media Inc. and Hearst Productions Inc.

“The Bible” miniseries has been a huge hit – what was it like to see that success?

“The Bible” miniseries has been such a blessing to work on. A hundred million Americans watched it on television. It’s amazing. Since then it’s gone around the world. In the last couple of weeks it’s been number one in Hong Kong. Also, in England it’s been the top rated show. So it’s really going around the world, and we’re hearing so many wonderful stories of people coming to Christ as a result of the series. We realize you really can reach so many people through television and motion pictures in a real comprehensive way.  It gave people a real way to emotionally connect or, in some cases, reconnect with the Bible and then go back over the sacred text and read it. It’s absolutely incredible.

We realized as we were shooting that the most dynamic portion of the story was Jesus – the most important person. And Roma and I said, this really – the story of the Son of God – it needs to be seen on a big movie screen, in community. And people said “Oh you’ll never get it to be a movie.” But of course, we have. So now Twentieth Century Fox is releasing it as a major motion picture February 28. We don’t have a big marketing budget like The Hobbit or Thor. We need the Christian community to show up and say, “This is our story.”

What is the storyline of Son of God?

We loved shooting the miniseries and we actually overshot it so the movie is a complete re-edit and it’s told through the perspective of John. It goes really deep into the miracles and mission of Jesus, through the trial, the crucifixion, and most importantly, the resurrection and ascension. It ends back with Paul in revelation. It’s a beautiful two-hour experience of really connecting emotionally with the life of Christ.

How did you decide what scenes would make the cut for the film? Obviously you had 10 hours from the series to start with, but then you had extra footage to – that must have been quite the process to narrow it down to two hours.

The story of Jesus was clearly the most important for us to tell. We saw Diogo Morgado deliver a moving, beautiful portrayal of Jesus. And Roma as the mother of Jesus was so lovely. We knew that was the story we had to show in the movie, on the big screen.  It’s come out beautifully. Everybody who has seen this is so moved, so emotionally moved. We feel this movie will absolutely go around the world.

For viewers who have already seen the TV series, can they still expect to see some surprises?

It’s a completely different experience from the TV series. The way it’s edited, and with the new scenes, and the way you feel watching it, is a stand-alone movie experience and you cannot take your eyes off the screen. You’re going to love it, you’re going to love it. What I think and what I’m hoping is that church members bring people with them to the movie, who may be lacking in faith or haven’t been to church, and that the movie will really make them feel something. We all want our friends who don’t go to church to come experience Jesus and feel that love. It’s much harder to say, “Come to church on Sunday” than it is to say, “Hey, come to see a movie.” What we’re seeing around the country is churches and business leaders are stepping up and booking screenings to allow their members to bring people. I think if everybody can bring someone with them, people could really become opened to the story of Jesus. Just to have people exposed to the story of Jesus, it could be such a beautiful way for them to be introduced to it.

There have been a lot of biblical stories hitting the big screen recently – what do you think is leading Hollywood to look to the Bible for inspiration?

Yeah, there are, but I do think that this film will stand out and be such an important movie. The last film on the life of Christ was actually 50 years ago. Which shows how necessary this film really is. Millions, I think, will be introduced to this story for the first time. I think, in general, Hollywood goes in cycles – it could be Westerns for a few years, Sci-Fi. Now, I think the success of “The Bible” miniseries – the number one cable miniseries of the year in America – I think people notice viewership. Clearly that has spurred on many people to want to make biblical films.

Jessi Emmert is the editorial assistant at Good News.


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